North Alabama's Drug Addiction: Understanding addiction

Even years after her last drug use, Julie Coleman constantly reminds herself why it is important to stay clean.

Posted: Sep 16, 2021 7:33 AM
Updated: Sep 16, 2021 11:37 AM

Many people feel the effects of the substance abuse disorder or addiction. 

Whether it is their own fight or a loved one’s.

"Nobody wakes up and says, I want to be an addict,” Julie Coleman said.

Once you are in it, it is nearly impossible to get out. That is how Coleman describes her addiction. Her drug use began when she was just a teen.

"I was never going to do meth, you know never, but I ended up doing it and then it was like the grim reaper, it just took me,” Coleman said.

For more than a decade, Coleman abused meth. She lost jobs, housing, and cycled in and out of the Morgan County Jail.

As her addiction grew, so did her role in the epidemic, eventually leading her to deal the same drug she abused.

"It's not because you're trying to get rich, it's because you're trying to survive,” Coleman said.

Despite the odds, Coleman eventually fought her demons. Thanks to long-term recovery, she has been sober for more than 12 years.

Olivia Ikerd is also more than a decade sober and now directs a women’s recovery center, A New Beginning, in Florence.

"About four years after I got sober, the girls started coming in and you know it was the heroin,” Ikerd said.

The opioid epidemic hit Alabama hard in the 2000s with the number of overdose deaths climbing 82 percent from 2006 to 2014.

Turn the page to 2021, Ikerd is noticing a startling trend.

"A lot of our clients come in, they test positive for fentanyl and they have no idea they even used it,” Ikerd said.

Rendell Drummond runs a men’s recovery center, Living Free Recovery, in Morgan County. He is noticing the same trend.

"That essentially is what kills them, is the fentanyl,” Drummond said. “Eight years ago, I didn’t know what Narcan was.”

Both of the centers have something in common. Their treatment plan lasts longer than 30 days. They say that is a crucial weapon to help those who feel there is no end in sight.

"I went to treatment four times before I got sober and the first three times, it was short term,” Ikerd said.

Ikerd said recovering is not just choosing to say no to drugs, but learning how to live life sober.

"When we're out there using, our behaviors, it's more like a survival instinct,” Ikerd said. “So we just help them develop new life skills, to live life on life's terms without the cushion of drugs and alcohol."

Drummond’s program is helping more than 50 men across two campuses. But he knows it is not enough. Many addicts do not have the means to get sober, even with more than 40 state-funded rehab programs in Alabama.

"It's hard to access treatment, it's hard to access detox in our state because there's not much state funded detoxing, so we just, we do the best we can,” Drummond said.

Julia Rowland was able to find a treatment center through a Huntsville organization, Partnership For a Drug Free Community. It offers a Recovery Resource Hub to refer addicts to a facility.

Rowland is now 15 months sober from I-V meth.

"Being able to have the resources in the local community, to just be able to walk in and feel comfortable, I think that's the best part of it,” Rowland said.

It may seem as easy as walking through a door for Rowland, but it took hitting rock bottom to reach out for help.

"Right before I went to treatment, I was in a camper by somebody's grandparents' house at 7 in the morning, doing drugs,” Rowland said.

“I'm looking around and people are passed out from heroin and all kinds of stuff and I'm just like, this is what I'm doing? this is my life? These are who I'm surrounding myself with and I just can't do it anymore."

Rowland knows she is not the same person she was 15 months ago.

"I had to change my people, places and things, I had to change everything, but the support group was the biggest part of my early sobriety,” Rowland said.

Her recovery continues, as it does for every addict, each going about it in their own way. Even years after her last drug use, Coleman constantly reminds herself why it is important to stay clean.

"People lose everything, all their friends and family,” Coleman said. “I had a mom who, I don't want to cry, but she stuck it out the whole time and she prayed for me and her prayers actually got answered."

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